Remembering Comrade Sridhar


18th August 2017. Two years since Comrade Sridhar passed on. Over a period of almost forty years Sridhar Srinivasan contributed in a variety of different ways to the revolutionary movement.

Though no longer with us, he lives on – in his writings and in the countless memories he has left behind. He continues to be the inspiration he always was. Many is the occasion, when confronted with an organisational or political issue, one has tried to measure up to it by a Sridhar yardstick – trying to figure how Sridhar would have looked at it or tried to solve it.

A small example of the Sridhar way is the letters he wrote from jail. Even a simple communication to his lawyer regarding a legal issue could become for him an opportunity to bond politically.

Adv Dhairyasheel Patil, Sridhar’s trial court lawyer, is not only one of the seniormost in the legal profession – he has served as Chairperson of the Bar Council of India; he is also one who keenly and actively participates in the political events of the day.

Sridhar’s letter below to Adv Patil, written in 2010 from Nagpur Central Prison, illustrates a connect somewhat beyond the normal political prisoner-lawyer relationship. Apart from the political commentary, the spirit of the letter has in it the potential to inspire, not only its recipient, but also those of us who read it several years later. A reading and re-reading provides many a lesson.

Dear Mr.Patil,

Here’s to hoping that 2010 will see the people’s struggles rescue Indian Marxism from the hole that the mainstream Marxists have pushed it into.  Just a few minutes ago, the transistor blaring in the corridor outside our cell reported the demise of Jyoti Basu.  It was depressing the way the worst reactionaries heaped encomiums on him.  Depressing because it once again brought home forcefully the abysmal depravity of these ‘Marxists’  who reduced the most  rebellious and radical ideology that man has created into a tame lap dog of the ruling classes.  Praise from Chidambaram and Arun Jaitley – any respectable human being should have been revolted, but I am sure Jyoti Basu  and also those of his ilk would have probably rejoiced as if it were the crowning glory of their lives. (Jyoti Basu from wherever people like him go to when they depart this world). 

There is probably some metaphorical significance in that this icon of defanged, truncated Marxism leaves this world just as the people of Lalgarh have begun to reclaim and resurrect Marxism to its pristine and exhilarating essence. It probably symbolises the process of the old and putrefying giving way to all that is fresh and fragrant.  There is this hint of a unique process of regeneration discernible in India.  In the history of Marxism it has often required the brilliance of individuals like Lenin and Mao to extricate Marxism from the abyss of revisionism and restore it to its rightful place in the van of the proletarian struggle.  But here in India the most advanced social science finds its saviour in the most ‘backward’ tribal people.  Marxism is being expounded and elaborated, not in a rich intellectual polemic or in studied treatises, but by the collective practice of an illiterate peasantry in the forests and mountains.  You may think I am romanticising things extravagantly (maybe so).  But then how else to view these movements in Lalgarh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh which are raising the most credible challenge to the ruling classes in the last 60 years.  And their challenge is not just a knee jerk reaction to deprivation but poses an alternative.  Implicit in the practice of this movement is the reassertion of all the fundamental principles of Marxist thought.  In the dialectic between theory and practice, here we find praxis leading theory by the nose.  Traditional and establishment Marxists are unable to grasp the character and essence of the movement and run behind flailing their hands, muttering inanities about violence, democracy, futility of armed struggle etc.  This movement has posed such questions which have confounded these intellectuals.  In the internet websites and columns of magazines like EPW you will find so many of these ‘wise’ men panicking at the way this movement has rendered them irrelevant and without a constituency (except for themselves). 

Undoubtedly the present people’s movement is not just some spontaneous upsurge, but the result of decades of work of a party whose hall mark has been an unswerving dedication to Marxist principles, determination to inseparably link themselves to the people and limitless capacity for sacrifice.  This party brought the theory to the people; now the people have owned it and surged ahead.  Theory now needs to keep pace with the praxis.  Maybe even the party which made all this possible too has lagged behind on drawing the correct theoretical lessons of successes and failures in this practice.  Very few of the Marxist intellectuals seem to be able to grasp or even sense the questions and challenges the movement faces or is itself raising.  Among a few who do attempt to grasp the issues or try to articulate it with some depth is one Saroj Giri.  Attached is another recent article of his which we found interesting especially since he has theoretically tried to present issues which the movement has raised in practice.  Hope you also find it interesting. 

To what extent the peoples movements will reclaim the Marxist heritage and render irrelevant the revisionist version will depend on how well the state’s offensive is repelled.  Chidambaram has wisely decided to disassociate himself from the operational name of his offensive.  He disclaimed any knowledge of ‘Green Hunt’.  He is not sure of a clear and decisive victory – so he talks of a long battle, that all those 70,000 troops are deployed to ensure ‘development’ etc.  He will not like to be burdened with a defeat or a festering war associated to him.  But unfortunately the current offensive has been irrevocably linked to him and he will not be able to wash his hands so easily.  However the balance in military terms is tilted in his favour.   However if he does not achieve significant military success in reasonable time the political initiative may tilt away from him. The consensus he has built behind him will slowly begin to crack. There are small hair line fractures already visible which seem to be coming from below.  Reformist social movements (who are essentially system status quoists), who always viewed the Maoists with anathema are more keen to distance themselves from the repressive state than from the Maoists. (A small but visible reversal of earlier trend).This was the situation a couple of years back.  Should these embryonic fault lines develop into a full blown fissure, spreading from below into the ranks of the ruling elite, then Chidambaram’s military advantage will be of no avail to him.  History shows that if asymmetric wars are stretched out over a long period then it is politics that will determine the outcome and not just military strength.  This is true even for the Maoists – something they should factor into their strategy and tactics. 

Any swing in the political balance of forces in favour of the movement cannot be easily achieved if the movement remains confined to tribal pockets.  Here in lies the Achilles heel of the Maoist movement – its immense weakness in the developed areas and urban centres.  If the Maoists succeed to build their movement in these areas it will strengthen them immensely and make it difficult for their enemies to defeat them.  All those who desire the flowering of Revolutionary Marxism in the country have no alternative but to pitch in and defend this movement from Chidambaram’s offensive.  Hope that 2010 will prove beneficial for the cause of revolutionary Marxism and democracy.

Now that we are ensconced in Nagpur jail we have been able to prod our cases along.  There has been some semblance of progress in this front.  Cases are getting committed to Sessions court and charges are being framed.  These sorts of things should have taken place as a matter of course much earlier.  But our worthy judicial system has the uncanny ability to make even these simple automatic steps in the trial of a person into occasions worthy of much rejoicing.  And jail instils a sense to appreciate small mercies.  But on the whole, things are undeniably slithering forward and who knows, in about 6 months, we may even have the first of our acquittals.  Insha’Allah.  

There is a bit of good news in the Mumbai matter.  An RTI enquiry has yielded a useful response.  It helps to establish the lie regarding the alleged seizure of explosives etc on the day of our arrest.  Attached is a copy of the reply.  Please inform as to what follow up needs to be done and also how we should use it to bring this evidence on record. 

Should we apply for bail in the Mumbai case?  We were thinking of applying for bail in cases here after achieving some acquittals. 

Earlier I had sent you a note regarding the matter of rearrests and foisting of cases after long periods of incarceration or at time of release after acquittal in all cases.  Can you suggest some ideas as to how we could challenge this in the higher judiciary? 

Hope you and your family are in good health.

Yours sincerely, Love Sridhar

17/1/2010

What India’s TV wars with Pakistan don’t tell us about our wars without witness


Thousands have died in internal battles waged against its own people in Kashmir, Chhattisgarh and the Northeast.

 There are wars and there are the TV wars and it is the second variety that has been raging over the last few weeks in the media studios throughout the land. The September 18 attack on Uri Army headquarters provided the trigger for TV anchors, ruling politicians and sundry other warmongers itching to declare war on Pakistan.

The luminaries of the political and defence establishment, who, despite Pathankot, had ignored security and were guilty of facilitating 19 soldiers’ deaths by the gross negligence of lodging them in inflammable tents, escaped all scrutiny. All lapses were well hidden behind a smokescreen of war clouds of their own making.

The shrillness of the war cries yet shows no signs of abating. A variety of war games are being played out on prime time. Many media outlets had, even before the announcement by the Indian Army of surgical strikes, already invented and announced surgical strikes of their own.

As the media sets up televised war rooms complete with maps and digital models, every actual, notional or imagined step of the armed forces is being chalked out and projected – more surgical strikes, Indian fidayeen units, hot pursuit, and implementation of doctrines  of cold start, and even limited nuclear war. The “war” with Pakistan is being fought out in full media glare even before it actually begins.

A make-believe war

An actual war with Pakistan is yet a remote possibility. Military confrontations in these times are usually proxy wars, with one or the other big power backing each of the sides. Both India and Pakistan being well within the same American camp, the likelihood of the US consenting to declarations of war on each other is extremely low. Meanwhile, major military moves contrary to Washington’s wishes are not options either country’s ruling class is willing to contemplate.

But a make-believe war too has its fair share of backers. The party in power can reap a rich harvest of votes; a jingoistic anchor and his channel can rake in the TRPs; a corporate house entering armaments can speed up the contracts.

So, war or no war, the business of warmongering will carry on. Under the camera glare, politicians will thump their chests and anchors will shout themselves hoarse, creating choruses from all corners.

Real and lethal internal wars

But TV wars are not the only type of wars. There are some very real and very lethal wars being waged by the Indian state in various parts of the country. Some of them have been on for decades with death counts far surpassing anything on the Line of Control (LoC). The news of these, however, rarely makes it to the newspaper headlines or prime time TV.

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In just the last three months of protests in Kashmir, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured.

One such war is the one waged against the almost three-decade-long mass insurgency for self-determination in Jammu and Kashmir, which has caused a death toll between 44,000 and 1,10,000 as per various estimates.

In just the last three months of mass protests against the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander, Burhan Wani, the casualty count has been 92 dead and over 12,000 injured, including 1,000 blinded in firing and shot-gun pellet attacks by security forces. These figures far outstrip the numbers of Indian citizens killed and injured in all the external conflicts waged by India since 1947.

Another conflict is the five-decade-old attempt by the Indian state to wipe out the Naxalite movement. The toll here too runs to several thousand. While the estimates for earlier years are disputed, government figures for the last 20 years run to around 14,000.

In the last seven months, Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region alone has seen more than a 100 adivasis killed in encounters shown by civil rights groups to be fake.

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Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone.

Jammu and Kashmir figures in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most militarised zone. It has seven lakh military and paramilitary personnel in comparison to a population of only 125 lakh giving a soldier-people ratio of 1:18. A similar situation exists in the Bastar division of Chhattisgarh, which has one lakh paramilitary forces for a population of 31 lakh, that is, a soldier-people ratio of 1:31.

A report submitted to the United Nations by the Working Group on Human Rights in India points to similar intensified militarisation in the northeastern states. It has been a conflict zone right since 1947, with many groups fighting for self-determination. Government statistics admit to 21,400 fatalities from these conflicts in the last 25 years.

Wars without witness

As the body counts in such war zones grow grimmer, information flows from these parts get scantier. In fact, there has been a concerted attempt by the state and mainstream media to ensure that news and views on these wars remain highly restricted and are even fabricated.

The recent resignation by Naseer Ahmed, a senior Kashmir journalist with the Ambani-owned TV channel IBN7 brought to light the role of the Delhi-based media centres in fabricating news reports as per state directives and preventing factual reporting of the killings and unrest.

Raids on Kashmiri newspaper offices, Facebook censorship and a ban on the Kashmir Reader newspaper were some of the methods used to curb the local media. Well-known human rights activist Khurram Parvez was first prevented from traveling to Geneva to attend a session of the UN Human Rights Council and then was placed under arrest.

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The wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

In Bastar, the tool of arrest has been used rampantly by the state against journalists who refuse to toe the police line. The last year has seen at least four journalists being forced to spend months in jail on cooked-up charges. One of them is yet behind bars.

On October 15, two Mumbai-based writers were picked up from a Bastar jail merely for attempting to meet a woman Maoist prisoner with the jail superintendent’s permission. Lawyers and rights activists too have been systematically hounded and even evicted from the area. Amnesty International India has documented what it calls a near-total information blackout in the state in a report titled “Blackout in Bastar: Human Rights Defenders Under Threat”.

Thus, unlike the jingoistic TV wars with Pakistan, which the ruling classes relish and revel in, the wars that the state wages on its own people are kept far away from the media glare.

These are the wars which lay bare the lie of the democratic credentials of the Indian state. The dark designs of these wars must therefore be planned in secret. Their brutal consequences must be blacked out.

They must be wars without witness.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/india-pakistan-war-tv-media-kashmir-burhan-wani-chhattisgarh-bastar-naxals-fake-encounters-surgical-strikes/story/1/13452.html

From HCU to JNU, it’s worrying how Modi sarkar is cleaning up India’s campuses


Teachers come under attack as institutions move to sweep out dissent.

In the wake of the students’ spring that swept the country’s campuses during the last academic year, the Union government is naturally bent on taking steps to stem the tide of unrest.

It was the government, and particularly the HRD ministry, that was at the heart of many of the conflicts with the students – at IIT-Madras, Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), University Grants Commission (UGC), University of Hyderabad (UoH), Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) and elsewhere – and it is the government that potentially holds the keys to their solution.

However, anyone anticipating a conciliatory approach to meet student demands and resolve the conflicts would be sorely disappointed.

Rather, the government seems to be promising more of the same thing – further appointments of unqualified PM loyalists (like cricketerChetan Chauhan) to head institutions and a proposal on New Educational Policy that wants curbs on campus politics and derecognition of caste- and religion-based organisations (like the SC-ST associations which were active in the movement for Justice for Rohit Vemula).

Political cleansing of ‘Socrates’ who ‘corrupt the youth’

Simultaneously, the HRD ministry, in close coordination with the home ministry and the ABVP – the Sangh Parivar’s student wing – is moving to the next step on its agenda for eradication of all dissent on the campuses.

It looks like a programme for swachh universities, politically cleansed of all divergent ideas. In this phase, it seems that teachers with views against the ruling dispensation will be as much the targets as student activists. The government’s logic appears to be that it first needs to condemn and pluck out the “Socrates” who are “corrupting the youth” against the ruling dispensation.

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Indications of these were available in February and March this year. There were police complaints by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) and ABVP against a speech on nationalism at JNU by Nivedita Menon.

And when Rajesh Misra of the University of Lucknow shared on Facebook an article favouring JNU activist Umar Khalid, he had to face violent ABVP protests and notices from the university administration.

Earlier, Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey was sacked in January 2016 from the faculty of Banaras Hindu University (BHU), and Prof Saibaba of Delhi University was suspended and even physically attacked for sympathising with Naxalites.

As the new academic year commenced in June-July 2016, the UoH moved, on June 13, 2016, to suspend KY Ratnam and Tathagat Sengupta, two professors who had stood with the students fighting for Justice for Rohit Vemula.

They had, in March 2016, been arrested when they remonstrated with the police during a lathi-charge on protesting students. Their suspension met with strong protests by students and teachers in Hyderabad and other centres and the UoH administration was forced to beat a hasty retreat and revoke the suspension.

IB-ABVP combine

Meanwhile, other reports came in of removal of professors at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, another deemed university.

The ABVP has, over the last few months, been repeatedly announcing that TISS was its next target after JNU.

They also met the TISS director S Parasuraman in April 2016 with a list of “anti-social elements” on campus. They even listed to a journalist the leftists in the faculty and boasted of their access to Intelligence Bureau (IB) reports about the activities of TISS fellows.

With such blatantly announced close coordination between central intelligence agencies and Sangh Parivar organisations, pressure on the TISS authorities to remove teachers who were difficult to control was bound to be high.

Bela Bhatia, who has even served on the Planning Commission committee on left-wing extremism, had been edged out in the midst of a course she was teaching in 2014.

Sanober Keshwar, who has taught for seven years and was listed as a teacher in six courses for the new academic year, was abruptly sacked by removing her office phone and blocking her TISS mail access even before telling her, in the second week of June 2016, of her removal. Another teacher, Monica Sakhrani, too has been abruptly moved out.

All of them have been active on democratic rights issues for several years and would be seen as obstacles to the Sangh Parivar plans.

Witch-hunts in academia 

As the ruling party organisations and State organs work in close collaboration to target their ideological rivals in the universities, the stage is being set for witch-hunts in the academia. It is reminiscent of the McCarthy era purges in post-Second World War US which were largely done by the FBI under Edgar Hoover. The spread of the IB on campuses is also being supplemented by surveillance by the local police.

In Mumbai, the police zone that covers the TISS has started a survey of all colleges for student and faculty details. While one college head saw this as police interference which was not required, TISS director Parsuraman said it was the TISS administration that had requested police officials to make the rounds of the institute and its vicinity.

Such methods are bound to face opposition from students and teachers alike. It remains to be seen whether such resistance will be able to preserve the much needed democratic space in our universities.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-saffronisation-of-education-rohit-vemula-hcu-crackdown-kanhaiya-kumar-umar-khalid-smriti-irani-abvp/story/1/11420.html

Prison hunger strikes are part of struggle for azadi and democracy


When the cases are false, the authorities try all means to extend the period of the trial.

Naxalism, Odisha, Prison Reform

It is a battle for democracy and justice, a battle for azadi. It does not have the sound and lights and the cadence of the catchy “azadi” sloganeering of the current student agitations.

But that does not make it less of a fight for rights and freedoms than any of the other struggles that have captured the imagination of the country and its media over the last few months.

It is a silent, grim, almost wordless fight that is going on right now in Odisha, behind the walls of Bhubaneshwar’s Jharpada Special Prison.

There are no marches, no speeches, just a bare statement, by seven prisoners, asking for implementation of the most basic fundamental rights granted by law and by the country’s highest constitutional court – the right to a speedy trial and the right to be produced regularly from prison in order to be present at one’s own trial.

Those raising these demands are undertrial prisoners, mostly tribals and Dalits, implicated in cases of Naxalite violence. But the only violence in this struggle is the violence caused to their own bodies by their chosen mode of protest – hunger strike.

As these words are being written, the ongoing hunger strike of the political prisoners in Odisha, which began on March 30, 2016, is in its third week. This is the stage when the medical condition of the person on hunger strike worsens dramatically and it becomes difficult to even stand.

Two of the seven hunger strikers have already been shifted to hospital. The authorities, however, are not showing any signs of acceding to any of the demands. In fact, the delays in trial are mainly owing to deliberate non-appearance of police witnesses on several dates.

Since the cases are false and mostly end in acquittal, the authorities try all means to extend the period of trial so that the prisoners remain as long as possible in jail as undertrials. The police are in no mood now to give up this strategy.

The experience of the Odisha political prisoners is nothing new. Arun Ferreira (one of the authors of this article) had himself undergone a 27-day-long hunger strike along with 12 other political prisoners at the Nagpur Central Prison in 2008.

The demand of the hunger strike then too was a mere implementation of the law. They were demanding a stop to the illegal practice of re-arresting political prisoners at the prison gates immediately on their acquittal and release in earlier cases.

A recent example was the two-month-long hunger strike in August-September 2015 by 26/11 Mumbai attacks accused Zabiuddin Ansari at the Arthur Road Prison in Mumbai. He was protesting his illegal solitary confinement and non-production in court.

Thus the demands of these and numerous other strikes of political prisoners over the years have mostly been to merely secure implementation of the law and to stop violations of rights guaranteed under the Constitution.

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Prisons follow colonial standard operating procedure for hunger strikes

It is, however, rare that the prison and police authorities accede to the demands of political prisoners. The standard practice is to turn a deaf ear to even the most reasonable of demands while ensuring that the prisoners on hunger strike are kept completely cut off, not only from the society outside, but also from the other prisoners. During the present Odisha prison struggle, the striking prisoners have been denied all visits – even by close relatives or defence lawyers.

Meanwhile, while keeping each hunger striker separate, all attempts are made to dupe or tempt them into giving up the strike. If such attempts fail, the next method is force-feeding. This standard operating procedure was laid down during British rule and is still followed in all the prisons of the country. It is mostly successful in breaking a hunger strike without acceding to the demands.

In spite of the low possibility of the administration agreeing to their demands, political prisoners still very often resort to hunger strike. As Arun has explained, hunger strike is often the only option to get basic human rights in prison. This was also the approach of the revolutionary prisoners during the struggle against British rule.

Bhagat Singh launched several such hunger strikes during his period in jail. It was during one such hunger strike in 1929 that the revolutionary Jatin Das gave up his life after going 63 days without food. His death anniversary on September 13 is commemorated to this day by political prisoners in jails across the country. His protest was against the discrimination between Indian and European prisoners and the inhuman conditions in prisons. Soon after his death, some changes came about.

Hunger strikes in prisons increase the democratic space

Even if demands are not immediately agreed to, the mere assertion and determination involved in a hunger strike in prison is an announcement to those who rule that the political prisoner is not one to take things lying down.

This in itself often manages to open up a democratic space where none existed and forces a re-working of the equations of power in jails. When such struggles are repeated by the same prisoners and by future batches of prisoners, the administration is forced to give in to some, if not all the demands.

The results of such repeated struggles can be seen in better prison conditions in places where political prisoners have fought for their rights, such as Punjab, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Struggles have even forced the administration and judiciary to ensure better implementation of the principle of bail as the rule and jail as the exception.

In most states, however, prison conditions continue to be extremely inhuman with the deliberate violation of most constitutional guarantees. It was Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky who said: “The degree of civilisation in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

By that yardstick, the civilisational standard of our society would be pretty low. But all is not bleak. Struggles in prisons, like the present one in Odisha, are growing. Many of these struggles may not achieve their immediate demands. But they will nevertheless make their own significant contribution to the ongoing struggle for azadi and true democracy.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/prison-reform-odisha-naxalism-mumbai-attacks-bhagat-singh-maoist-azadi-british-rule/story/1/10131.html

Students Spring advances amidst violent State onslaught


Latest phase of student movement draws new centres and sections into ideological battle

Finance minister Arun Jaitley’s latest claim to ideological victory in the nationalism debate seems to have a more timid tone than his earlier assertion of triumph. Earlier, while speaking at the National Convention of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) on March 6, he claimed, rather grandiosely, to have won the “ideological war”. His claim, made just three days after JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar’s release from jail, was based on the Jai Hind slogan Kanhaiya raised and the tricolor that was waved at JNU during his release speech. Interpreting these acts as acceptance of defeat, the BJP ideological general’s proclamation had the degree of finality one normally associates with the adversary signing a document of surrender.

Just 20 days later, Jaitley’s claims had been considerably scaled down. While addressing the Executive Committee meeting of Delhi BJP Jaitley continued to claim “victory”, but this time he merely said that it was the first round that had been won and that the ideological battle would continue. A very significant section to call Jaitley’s bluff was within his very camp.

The lieutenants in his army had been quick to realize that the students’ movement was far from defeated. As Jaitley was speaking to the BJYM, one of its district chiefs had even announced a five lakh reward for Kanhaiya’s tongue; another organisation offered eleven lakh for Kanhaiya’s head. Such calls and the wide applause they received from the Sangh Parivar foot-soldiers on the social media battlefield, could hardly have emerged from victorious ideological warriors. They rather resembled the reactions of the school bully who resorts to strong-arm methods to recover ground lost in an argument.

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Violence on students continues and grows

Strong-arm has been and continues to be an inseparable part of Jaitley’s ideological war against the students. In the earlier phase in the University of Hyderabad (UoH), when the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) was in constant retreat in the face of the growing ideological influence of Rohit Vemula’s Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA), the power of government was brought into play to punish the students with a central minister branding them as casteist, extremist and anti-national. Students later protesting for #JusticeForRohithVemula were physically attacked by RSS members in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and other places. The JNU phase saw a cocktail of coercion: FIRs and arrests based on doctored videos, violence by BJP affiliated lawyers, Sangh mobilisation of surrounding neighbourhoods to attack JNU student residents. The latest upsurge of student agitation following last week’s re-installation of the UoH Vice-chancellor has seen brutal use of police, not only in Hyderabad, but also in Kozhikode, Chennai, Mumbai and elsewhere.

The widespread and growing use of violence by the BJP and the Sangh Parivar organisations, both directly and by deploying the government’s coercive apparatus lays bare the lie of the Jaitley claim to victory in the clash of ideas. No ideological victor needs to resort to armed might to seal an argument from which s/he has emerged triumphant.

It is obvious that the Sangh Parivar and its government is experiencing an unusually high level of insecurity in the face of the rising tide of the students movement and the unsettling stirring of ideas it has generated. Challenges to caste discrimination in academia, outright rejection of Dronacharya and Manu and the audacious dream of annihilation of caste; interrogations of nationalism and assertions of the right of nations to self-determination; determined defence of dissent and radical redefinition and re-imagination of existing premises and promises of democracy are all ideas which have, in the last two and half months, broken free of the narrowness of small group discussion behind university walls and have forced themselves onto the streets and into public spaces in ways they have not done before in recent times. It is this churn that the ruling party and its government are trying to violently put down.

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New centres and issues of struggle

The physical violence is viciously one-sided with only one receiving end – the students. The numbers too are definitely stacked up heavily against them, with only a minority in the country being today supportive of ideas of caste annihilation, azadi and dissent. The David-Goliath face-off should have, by all conventional ruling class calculations been a walkover. Something however went horribly wrong (for those in power) and the students succeeded in turning traditional wisdom on its head. Rohith Vemula’s death became a historical rallying point that brought in an extremely wide ranging coalition of forces to demand #JusticeForRohith. While the motives of some supporters like the Congress were largely suspect, the Rohith movement generated genuine, active participation of a wide spectrum of students and youth from various regions, classes, castes and communities who are ready to not only fight against the immediate injustice, but also to carry it ahead towards the goals of social justice and annihilation of caste.

The movement seriously impacted the Sangh Parivar plans to make inroads into Dalit communities and appropriate the legacy of Ambedkar in his 125th Birth Anniversary year. The BJP, whose Central ministers were the prime focus of attack, was thrown on the backfoot and found it impossible to effectively tackle the challenge head on. The Parivar therefore chose the path of diversion by selecting what they thought would be an easier battle-ground – that of nationalism and the question of Kashmir. Their elaborate plan complete with doctored videos by crony media and sedition cases by a compliant police commissioner however had not taken into account the determination of the average JNU student and teacher and of the student and teaching community across the country to stand up in defence of dissent.

Broader and deeper student unity

After some initial “success” in using the bogey of anti-nationalism to divert and divide those standing for #JusticeForRohith, the Parivar plan was beaten back by a student unity that refused to see any difference between the anti-national branding of Rohith Vemula and the anti-national branding of the JNU students who organised the programme on Afzal Guru. At universities across the country, the sight of red flags mingling with blue amidst cries of Jai Bhim-Lal Salaam became the new nightmare of the Sangh Parivar. As azadi became the new war cry resounding at every student protest meet, it became the slogan uniting those fighting for various types of azadi – from azadi from poverty and caste oppression to the azadi to choose one’s own nationalist slogan or not at all. The green flags of Muslim student organisations are also being raised in protest as they join in significant numbers.

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The latest phase of this ongoing Student Spring has followed the attempt by the vice-chancellor of the UoH, an accused in the death of Rohith Vemula, to sneak back to his seat in the early morning of March 22. The ones who planned this from the seat of government grossly underestimated the intensity and unity of the resistance to the VC’s return. Despite tough police action and even arrests in Hyderabad, solidarity demonstrations have been a daily occurrence in several universities across the country, often resulting in clashes with the police or Sangh Parivar organisations.

In fact more centres, more universities, more organisations and students have been adding their voices in support. The increase in numbers has also meant wider differences in ideological orientation with an increase in the criticism on each other within the movement. This criticism, often conducted openly on social media sites, does not seem to have however hampered the unity and expansion of the students’ movement. In fact openness of criticism and openness to criticism can actually have helped to cement a more mature and wider unity.

Meanwhile the responses from the other side have been marked by a lack of credibility and coherence. Arun Jaitley and Venkaiah Naidu have both recently tried to debunk the ongoing student movement as the work of a handful of ultra-leftists and a few Jihadis or separatists in two-three universities. Considering the impact the student movement has had on the country’s political discourse over the last two and half months these statements seem to be quite an exercise in self-delusion.

Just a week after the BJP National Executive passed a resolution stating that refusal to say Bharat Mata ki Jai was unacceptable, Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of its parent organization, the RSS made a statement that the slogan cannot be forced upon the people. These confusions and general disarray in the face of an advancing students’ movement can only be expected to increase in the coming weeks.

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/students-spring-rohit-vemula-hyderabad-university-kanhaiya-kumar-anti-national-bharat-mata-ki-jai-rss-mohan-bhagwat-jnu/story/1/9792.html

 

#JNU #Hokkolorob to #JusticeForRohithVemula: India’s student uprising is upon us


The Dalit scholar’s suicide has proved a catalyst for the explosive coming together of young people across an extremely wide spectrum.

“Don’t politicise the young man’s death”, was a refrain repeated ad nauseum by Smriti Irani and the rest of the Sangh Parivar brigade in the immediate aftermath of the death of Rohith Vemula, whose suicide has sparked a wave of protest throughout the country. Sanctimonious sermonising is a preferred mode of defence for a political party caught in a bind. And the BJP, with its unholy lien on smugness and piety, could only be expected to scramble pathetically to grab some moral ground. Some sections of media, also expectedly, joined the chorus, with anchors and panelists voicing alarm that students were being “instigated” and “diverted” from their primary avocations in the degree factory.

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Pontifications that students need stay away from politics are perhaps as old as the organised educational system itself. The preachers would well do to listen to Lala Lajpat Rai, one of the most dynamic leaders of the freedom struggle. In his presidential address to the first All India College Students’ Conference, held in Nagpur in December 1920 he had said, “I am not one of those who believe that students ought not to meddle in politics. I think it is a most stupid theory and an impossible theory too. It is the creation not of confused brains but of dishonest brains.”

Smriti’s dishonesties are legion enough to require no recounting here. Meanwhile, more and more students throughout the country have been voting with their feet on the lines of Lala Lajpat Rai and pouring out, in the campuses and on to the streets, on a variety of issues concerning the academic community and society as a whole. The last year and the first month of 2016 have seen a dramatic upsurge in the students’ movement throughout the country – a veritable Student Spring. Student agitations have seen a scope and sweep not seen since the decades of the sixties and seventies.

Resurgence of student political activism

The present phase of mass student agitation could be said to have started with the Hokkolorob movement, which began in September 2014 as a demand for action on an incident of molestation on the campus of Jadavpur University, Kolkata. When attempts were made to crush protests with a show of police brutality, it rapidly grew to involve tens of thousands of students in Kolkata and then spread to support actions from students throughout the country. The title of Hokkolorob – loosely translated as “let there be a noise” – that the movement took on signified in more ways than one the resurgence of the student political activist on the Indian campus scene – with a bang.

Though recent years had seen major mass movements with a considerable student presence, such as the December 2012 “Nirbhaya” movement in Delhi and the four year long movement of 2009-2013 for a separate Telengana state, Hokkolorob was significant for being a movement that had emerged from a campus issue and had carried within its sweep not only students from a number of other universities, but also teachers, parents and other participants from society at large. It met with success, with the government having to finally give in to the main demand of removal of the vice-chancellor who had ordered the police clamp-down. Soon after, two other prestigious universities of Bengal – Presidency and Shantiniketan – saw student agitations, though the impact was not as widespread as Hokkolorob.

In May 2015 the Smriti Irani led Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), on the basis of an anonymous complaint, prodded the administration of the IIT-Madras to derecognise the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC), a students’ body functioning in the institute. Among the “charges” in the complaint was that the APSC was “trying to create hatred against the honourable prime minister” and trying to make SC/ST students “protest against the MHRD and Central Government”. The perverse governmental interference in an academic institution brought about a surge of protest from students in similar institutions against the obviously casteist and undemocratic act. The government and institute were again forced to hastily retreat, but not before a host of similar APSC bodies starting blooming in other campuses all over the country – potential watchdogs against casteist and autocratic institution managements.

Around the same time on June 12, 2015, the students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) began a strike against the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairperson of the FTII Governing Council, despite him having nothing of note to qualify him for the task, except his loyalty to the party in power. They too received countrywide support, not only from other students but also from alumni, film personalities and other intellectuals. The government however did not relent and the strike was withdrawn on its 140th day, with the promise to continue the struggle from within. Chauhan’s first visit to the campus was only in January 2016, accompanied by protests, lathi-charge and arrests amidst fortress like security. Thus the FTII dispute continues to simmer with its enduring and deep impact on the student and intellectual community at large.

Occupy UGC is the next ongoing agitation that has spread across the country. It started in Delhi in October 2015 with the students’ occupation of the premises of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to protest its decision to, among other things, scrap non-NET scholarships (which provide small grants to research scholars who are outside the ambit of the National Eligibility Test – NET).

The students were forced out two days later by the police in a pre-dawn swoop, but their pick-up and detention only seemed to serve to further steel their resolve to harden and widen their protest. The protesters have continued since then to stay put at the UGC gates, providing a standard for research students across India to rally around and organise their own protests. There have been been All-India mobilisations at Delhi which have been lathi-charged and water-cannoned, but the movement shows no signs of abating. The government, by referring the matter to a review committee, has tried to send signals of a softening of its stand, but the students have pressed forward with a call for an “all-universities strike” on February 18, 2016.

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Rohith Vemula – resistance icon

It is in this situation of ferment that Rohith Vemula has proved a catalyst for the explosive coming together of students across an extremely wide spectrum, which in turn is providing a rallying point for the sundry forces who have felt the need to stand up against the repressiveness of the current casteist and communal regime.

Though Rohith had been targeted as a Dalit who refused to bow and submit to the casteist dispensation around him; though he, as his suicide note points out, had been reduced in his lifetime to “his immediate identity and nearest possibility”; in death, he rose high, above such categories and limitations, ascending to become the resistance icon of all struggling sections. As this is being written the protests snowball, with the figure for protest actions in various parts of the country on just one day – January 25, 2016 – reaching two hundred and forty two.

Bangaru Dattatreya, the Union Minister who pushed for action on the ASA activists, had, in his letter claimed that the University of Hyderabad (UOH) had become a den of casteists (read Dalits, tribals and all sections desiring the annihilation of caste), extremists (read all those putting up resistance to oppression and exploitation) and anti-nationals (read minorities, particularly Muslims, and all others opposed to the Sangh Parivar’s  Hindutva project). Rohith’s martyrdom has united such “casteists”, “extremists” and “anti-nationals”, not only in the UOH, but across the country. Joint Action Committees demanding justice for Rohith, formed in various universities and centres are now moving to form an All India Joint Action Committee for Social Justice.

The Parivar, though thrown on the defensive, has not remained silent. Organised attacks by RSS members on pro-Rohith protestors have already taken place in Mumbai, Kolkata and other places. These attacks may grow, but their efforts seem pitiable in the face of the rising wave of the Student Spring. This could lead to the more intensive use of the repressive state apparatus. But the movement for democracy and social justice seems to have already become quite a mass phenomenon which would require some stopping. The poet Pablo Neruda would have said, “They can cut all the flowers, but they can’t stop the spring”

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/from-hokkolorob-to-justiceforrohithvemula-the-student-spring-sweeping-across-india/story/1/8689.html

Why Modi sarkar is not serious about Paris Climate Change goals


Tribal resistance to deforestation offers better hope.

The years of negotiation leading up to the Paris agreement on climate change have spawned a whole new jargon of its own. In the days during and following the consensus reached on December 12, some of the catchphrases are spilling over into the public domain. Thus we had Prime Minister Modi tweeting that “climate justice” has won. Minister for environment, forests and climate change (MoEF&CC), Prakash Javadekar complained that actions of developed countries are far below their “historical responsibilities”.

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Hypocrisy of climate change rhetoric

It is interesting to see Modi and Javadekar talk of justice and responsibility with respect to the environment. Thus far they have shown scant concern for either. Soon after coming to power they have done all they can to clear the tracks for rampant exploitation of the environment by corporate India.

Dilution of pollution norms, removal of restrictions on projects near national parks, clearance for mining projects without public hearings, disempowerment of gram sabhas by removing provisions for their consent for industrial projects in forest areas were some among a slew of measures that amount to a veritable war on the environment. A simultaneous intensification of the war on the Maoist movement was announced by the home ministry. Apart from the political imperative, the declaration was to demonstrate a resolve to rid the forests of central and eastern India of the Naxalites, who are seen by India Inc as the prime obstacle to their plans to evict the local tribal population, clear the forests and exploit the vast mineral resources lying there.

Thus duplicity has long dominated the government’s climate change discourse. Javadekar talked tough and sanctimonious on the moral principle of equity and of the historic responsibility of those countries which have historically emitted the most, at the UN Climate Change Summit at New York in September 2014. This was the same month when he was plotting the amendment to the Forest Rights Act to deny the same equity to his country’s forest-dwellers by removing their right of consent to projects entering their areas. He also declared then at the UN that India was serious about acting on climate change and would act on its own volition. But, given the government’s policy measures, the hollowness of this claim seemed as apparent as the hypocrisy in the rhetoric.

Deepening the forest carbon sink

Climate change control/reversal is not only about limiting carbon emissions through so-called clean technologies, but also about preserving and expanding the forests which are the lungs of the earth. It has been estimated that around 90 per cent of CO2 emissions are caused by land-use change or deforestation. Forests are recognised as “carbon sinks” that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store carbon in wood, leaves, litter, roots, and soil and thus act to moderate the climate. Thus the extension and deepening of forests is essential to any programme of controlling climate change.

The government, however, has shown no real inclination of moving in that direction. An earlier environment ministry document, which dealt with the subject of forests as carbon sinks, seemed more interested in their valuation in monetary terms equivalent to “carbon credits”. The trouble with such an approach of linking India’s forests with the global carbon trade is that it leads to government reports being more interested in presenting a rosy and wrong picture of expanding area under tree cover, without bothering about its real impact on absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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Delhi’s forest cover up 13-fold?

Javadekar is leading from the front in this window-dressing. He, in July 2015, issued an intra-ministry circular, directing ministry officials to replace the word “diversion” of forest land with “reforestation” in all communications. An earlier CAG audit found compensatory afforestation on non-forest land to be only about seven per cent of the forest land taken over by projects. Further, as has been pointed out, even where “compensatory afforestation” actually takes place, it is normally in the form of plantations, which do not really compensate for natural forests that are “diverted”.

But the environment minister insists on covering up this reality. The same is with the Forest Survey of India’s 2015 figures for forest cover, which show an increase which is essentially a statistical creation due to changed definitions and satellite imagery techniques that bring even small one hectare patches with ten per cent canopy being counted as forests. The figures are so absurd as to show Delhi having increased its forest cover almost 13-fold from 15sqkm to 189sqkm over the last 30 years. But Javdekar could not care less. He was quick to assert that increased tree cover has deepened India’s carbon sink and that the figures would prove useful to negotiators at Paris to showcase India’s “commitment” to arresting climate change.

Since Javadekar was quite likely not the only figure-fudger at Paris, it would perhaps be unfair to single him out. It would be only an indicator that the actual implementation of the Paris Agreement would fall far short of the targets set.

Prospects post-Paris

Meanwhile business continues as usual post-Paris. It has recently been reported that the MoEF&CC has recommended forest clearance for the expansion of the country’s largest open cast mine in Singrauli, in an area of “very dense forest” that had earlier been classified as inviolate or out of bound for mining. The Centre is also considering a home ministry proposal seeking an eight-fold rise in forest clearance cap for projects in 117 Left-wing extremism hit districts, which also happen to be densely forested. This is in continuation of earlier decisions since 2011 to relax norms first in 60 districts and then in 57 more districts. Though environment ministry officials have raised initial objections, the trend so far indicates that the likelihood of the proposal being cleared is pretty high.

Such clearances and policy changes have, however, not always resulted in the clearing of forests to make way for projects. In many cases the struggles of the local tribal communities under the leadership of the Maoists has ensured that deforestation does not take place. One such struggle is building up in the Eastern Ghats, where the tribals have vowed to oppose the Andhra Pradesh government’s plan to deforest the hills for bauxite mining. The zonal committee of the CPI(Maoist) in the area has extended its support to the locals. In the face of such opposition, the AP government will possibly be forced to retreat and the bauxite may yet stay in the mountains. It is popular resistance such as this that will probably provide greater promise for the protection of the environment and forests.

By Arun Ferreira and Vernon Gonsalves

http://www.dailyo.in/politics/modi-prakash-javadekar-maoist-naxalites-paris-climate-change-goals-india-inc-co2-emissions-singrauli-bauxite-mining-andhra/story/1/8090.html

How government plans to use IAF to wage a war on its people


It well represents what Modi wants to do to his subjects.

Narendra Modi, Naxalism, Maoism

The stage is being set for history of an extremely infamous variety to be repeated in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh. Almost 50 years after the Indira Gandhi government’s strafing and bombing of Aizwal in Mizoram (then Assam) from March 5 to 13, 1966 with the help of Indian Air Force (IAF) planes, the Modi government is preparing to use the IAF once again to launch aerial attacks on its own citizens. The Chhattisgarh police has announced that it, along with the IAF, has recently “conducted successful exercises” in preparation for the launch of what are being called “retaliation attacks from air“, as part of anti-Maoist operations in the area. Given that air strikes, by their very nature, are indiscriminately destructive, this latest policy decision of the central and state governments is indicative of the brutal lengths to which they are ready to go for crushing the Maoist movement in the area and clear the ground for the entry of corporate capital. An already bloody conflict is poised to get bloodier. Ample indication of this was on display in the casual cruelty with which the “successful” exercises themselves were conducted.

“On October 13, three IAF helicopters flew over a specified area of Bijapur [district in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh] and practised strafing. Senior officers of the IAF and anti-Naxal operations of the state police participated in the exercise.” This shockingly bland statement came from RK Vij, Chhattisgarh’s additional director general of police, anti-Naxal operations seven days after the operation. There had been no previous announcement that such an exercise was to be conducted, nor had there been any warning issued to the local tribal population to evacuate or avoid the area to be strafed. Collateral damage to a few Indian citizens during the strafing is perhaps small change for a government that has obviously made cold-blooded calculations of deaths in hundreds and even thousands which aerial attacks anywhere in the world has always resulted in.

According to the Oxford dictionary, strafing, which Vij has said was practicsed on October 13, means attacking repeatedly with bombs or machine gun fire from low-flying aircrafts. Bombing of its own territory and people is something rarely done by modern day states who claim to have democratic credentials. Even if it is done, it is denied. In the case of Aizwal, Indira Gandhi had claimed that the IAF was only used to drop men and supplies. It was only in the 1980s that the fact of air strikes was officially accepted. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have abandoned such niceties. The careless manner in which the air attack plans have been announced and the implementation commenced resemble the act and intent of a monarch trying to brazen things out. The etymological origin of the word strafing is in the German strafe, meaning punish. It well represents what Modi wants to do to his subjects.

State fearful of democratic dissent

Behind the calculated hauteur however, there is also the realisation that today’s world also has a fair number of dissenters, who may not willingly fall in line. There are a handful of journalists who remain dedicated to the values of their profession and insist on reporting the truth. There are the human rights-walas who take chapter three of the Constitution somewhat seriously and try their utmost to squeeze out some democratic space within the otherwise repressive set-up. There are even some rare lawyers that struggle to get rolling the rusted wheels of a cynical judiciary. All such elements would have substantial opposition to aerial attacks and could set up real obstacles to their implementation by the government. Most fearful would be their ability to take the truth of the conflict zone to the outside world.

In anticipation therefore, there has been, over the past few months, a concerted effort by the police and allied agencies to evict or incapacitate anyone who may question them and thus sanitise the areas in and around the places earmarked for aerial attacks. Journalists have been targeted, particularly those with a record of truthfully reporting on the ground situation without acquiescing to administration demands to publish only the versions given by the police.

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On July 16, 2015, Somaru Nag, an adivasi journalist with the Rajasthan Patrika was detained and tortured, and shown to be arrested only after three days of illegal custody. Santosh Yadav, a freelance journalist filing news reports with several Hindi newspapers, including Dainik Navbharat and Dainik Chhattisgarh was the next to land behind bars. He had, over the last one year, been often harassed by the police and was once even stripped and threatened with torture in June 2015. Since he refused to back down despite the warnings, he was on 29 September, 2015 taken away on the pretext of the IGP wanting to meet him and was then implicated in an encounter case in August 2015. Amnesty International India, which has called for a stop to this intimidation of journalists, was told by Yadav’s lawyer that the charges against him were fabricated and that “Santosh Yadav has been a contact person for national and international journalists and was crucial in getting media attention to the plight of adivasis in the conflict-torn region. He has also been instrumental in helping adivasis get legal aid.” It is, therefore, quite understandable that the administration would want such a person out of the way before the aerial attacks start.

Meanwhile, the lawyers who are defending Nag and Yadav are themselves under attack. They belong to the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group (JagLAG), which came into existence in July 2013 as the result of brainstorming of human rights activists, academics and lawyers in New Delhi and Chhattisgarh who wanted to provide legal help to the people of Bastar. As soon as they started proving effective in providing legal aid to the locals and started producing studies of the large numbers rotting in jails without any evidence against them, they proved a threat to both the police, as well as the lawyers who had for many years profited from the misery of falsely implicated prisoners. In April 2015, the IG (Bastar) SRP Kalluri issued an open threat that he would act against NGOs helping the Maoists – meaning the legal help JagLAG was rendering to tribals implicated in Maoist-linked cases. Now both the police and the Bastar Bar Association have combined to try and ensure that “outside” lawyers (the JagLAG lawyers are registered in New Delhi) are prevented from practising in the local courts. In the case of JagLAG too, their ability to tell the world outside Bastar about the rampant human right violations there makes the administration uncomfortable and it would definitely like to see them evicted before the air strikes commence.

As the government makes its plans and prepares for an all-out war not everyone is keeping silent. Democratic rights organisations like PUDR and PUCL and some senior lawyers have come out in JagLAG’s support. The journalists of Chhattisgarh have formed a Sanyukta Patrakar Sangharsh Samiti and held protests in the capital Raipur against the police action on the journalists. They have directly accused Kalluri of preparing for genocide in the region. The Delhi Union of Journalists too has come out in support of journalists being victimised in conflict areas. The latest to condemn the arrest of journalists is the state Congress chief who has decried the reign of “administrative terror”.

Meanwhile, the Union minister of state for home, Kiren Rijiju, has sinisterly stated that, while he cannot disclose the nitty-gritty of the IAF’s planned operations in Bastar, they will be “decisive” and “effective”. Obviously the government plans are much more drastic than what has so far come out in the public domain. Will civil society institutions prove robust enough to stand up against and halt the state’s declaration of air war on its people?

By Vernon Gonsalves and Arun Ferreira